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American Indians face rental discrimination

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DENVER, Colo. - American Indians are discriminated against more often than any other minority when it comes to rental housing and that translates to a problem with home buying, housing organizations argue.

Discrimination against American Indians occurred 28.5 percent of the time when families or individuals attempted to find adequate rental housing. Hispanics were next at 25.7 percent followed by African Americans at 21.6 percent and Asians at 21.5 percent.

The survey was conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the states of Montana, Minnesota and New Mexico. It is expected that the same results would occur in other states with American Indian populations.

"This is the first time that HUD has included Native Americans in a study of housing discrimination and we believe that further studies would obtain similar data. Therefore, we call on HUD and the courts to vigorously prosecute those companies who have discriminated and to award funds to Native non-profits to build more affordable housing," said Gary Gordon, executive director of the National American Indian Housing Council.

In Rapid City, S.D. where a large population of American Indians reside, Laurette Pourier, director of the Society for the Advancement of Native Interests, said she has helped some American Indians attempt to find housing.

"I would call about a house to help a battered woman find a home and they would tell me it was available. When the woman arrived, they saw it was an American Indian and the house would be rented," Pourier said.

"I don't have a reservation accent, so I will make the call for a woman from the shelter. They are so nice, but when we go there it all changes. One of the problems in Rapid City is the slum lords who charge $600 a month," Pourier said.

What the study found was that 33 percent of the time American Indians experienced discrimination in Minnesota, 25.7 percent in New Mexico and most of the complaints were that information about housing availability was denied to American Indians, but was given to non-Indian testers.

The report stated that in one incident a 43-year-old non-Indian woman inquired about an available apartment, the agent showed her two other apartments of the same quality, gave her an application, business card and brochure and said the apartment in question was available.

A 37-year-old American Indian woman inquired at the same location. The agent said she was too busy to show her, but gave her a card, brochure and application. Nothing was said of availability.

This scenario is not uncommon to people who live in Indian country and attempt to find housing for their families. This study by HUD is one that brings to the forefront the problems in a documented way.

"Ending illegal housing discrimination is one of the highest priorities I have as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development," said Mel Martinez.

"The findings will enable HUD to devote more attention including enforcement that penalizes illegal discrimination to communities with significant Native American populations. Housing discrimination isn't just unfair, it's against the law," Martinez stated.

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NAIHC has asked that federal authorities file charges against landlords who discriminate American Indians and other groups that are mentioned in the study.

"We call on HUD and the courts to vigorously prosecute those companies who have discriminated and to award funds to Native non-profits to build more affordable housing," Gordon said.

While the study takes into consideration the initial contact by the potential renter or the tester in this case and the agent it did not follow through on any discrimination that may occur later in the transaction.

In the area of home ownership NAIHC indicated it had data that shows American Indians are treated differently when it comes to inflated fees, and higher interest rates, especially in the manufactured market.

The HUD report dealt only with the state of New Mexico in the homeownership category.

Pourier said her organization helped a woman with six children work out a misunderstanding after she was evicted from her apartment. Pourier said the landlord actually apologized to the woman after the incident was cleared up.

But an Odawa woman who lives in Spearfish, S.D. while she attends college said she has had trouble with housing for as long as she has lived in the area.

"I won't look for housing in certain areas I would like to live in because of racism. So I had an apartment in downtown Rapid City that was not kept up by the landlord. Street people would sleep in the hallway," the woman said. She wished to remain anonymous.

She added that in her present apartment building she has been treated differently than other tenants in regards to parking and allowable pets. She was told absolutely no pets, but another renter had a bird. After a confrontation with the landlord, she said he angrily agreed to let her have a bird.

"I have not been treated like that anywhere else," she said. "I'm sorry people who live here have to deal with that all the time."

In Billings, Mont. the study testers found an apartment listed as available and sent a 43-year-old American Indian woman to inquire. She told the agent she could afford $250-300 per month. When she arrived she was told the apartment had been rented. Next a 45-year-old non-Indian woman inquired about the same apartment. She was told it was available and was asked if she wanted to walk through the apartment.

Cases where the apartment suddenly becomes rented when agents discover the ethnicity of the client is the easiest method of skirting the law.

The study was conducted in metropolitan areas and used members of various tribes who make up the largest populations in the region.